ROAR: Moldova’s Transdniester wants independence, accession to Russia

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
The case of Moldova’s breakaway region is different from that of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, observers believe.

Leader of the Transdniester Moldovan Republic Igor Smirnov said on October 2 that this breakaway region is ready to join Russia and has no plans to close ties with the new leadership in Moldova.

More than 97% of the voters in the region’s 2006 referendum supported the eventual accession of Transdniester to the Russian Federation, the media recall. By the end of this year, voters should decide at another referendum if they agree to amend the Transdniester constitution.

This would be “a signal to Moscow,” Komsomolskaya Pravda daily wrote, adding that the Transdniester constitution is being brought into conformity with the Russian one. This measure, according to the authorities in Tiraspol, the breakaway republic’s capital, will accelerate the process of recognizing the republic and its possible merging with Russia, the daily said.

Smirnov added that Transdniester would only accept a dialogue with the new elected president of Moldova, not the present government. However, analysts think no new leader in Moldova will agree to the independence of the breakaway region or its accession to Russia.

“It is quite clear that national radicals’ coming to power in Moldova has put negotiations over Transdniester on the verge of breakdown,” Konstantin Zatulin, director of the Institute of the CIS countries, told Komsomolskaya Pravda. That is why the president of Transdniester repeated “what he had said many times before.”

However, Russia is not ready to recognize Transdniester as it did with Abkhazia or South Ossetia, he added. “Moscow still hopes the talks between Tiraspol and Chisinau will be successful,” Zatluin said.

At the same time, any changes in the status of the breakaway region may occur only after the presidential election in Ukraine, Zatulin believes. Russia should take Ukraine’s position into account “because that country, unlike Russia, borders Transdniester,” he said.

“The Transdniester conflict began almost 20 years ago,” Vremya Novostey daily wrote. In response to nationalistic policies of the authorities in Chisinau, the region’s population proclaimed itself a new republic of the USSR on September 2, 1990. “The independent Republic of Moldova was proclaimed in August 1991 without taking into account the opinions of the population of Transdniester,” the paper said.

“Chisinau sent troops to Transdniester in summer 1992, and only interference of Russian servicemen prevented a full-scale war,” the daily said. “The peacekeeping operation has been going since July 1992 with the participation of Moldovan, Transdniester and Russian peacekeepers, as well as observers from Ukraine and the OSCE.”

The summit of the heads of the CIS states will take place in Chisinau on October 8-9. It will be held “against a background of confrontation in Moldova and under anti-Russian slogans,” commentator Svetlana Gamova wrote in Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.

The new Moldovan authorities are reassuring that they are not going to exert pressure on ethnic minorities, and will not worsen relations with Russia. However, “the real situation is promising the reverse,” Gamova wrote.

Moldovan leaders have recently stated that Russian peacekeepers should be withdrawn from Transdniester and be replaced by an international mission. “The idea of the internationalization of the Transdniester conflict was for the first time sounded in Chisinau in 1995,” the commentator said. Now this topic has been renewed, she added. “Judging by the reaction in Brussels and Washington, the idea may be supported and financed,” she added.

In this situation, the region’s authorities will try to accelerate the process of gaining independence and may put Russia before a difficult decision, observers say.

Aleksey Malashenko from the Carnegie Moscow Center wrote in Kommersant daily that Russia should decide for itself that the conflict with Georgia was “a unique case” and should not “even think about repeating this experience in a particular situation, playing the card of separatism in Ukraine (Crimea) or Moldova (Transdniester).”

However, Mikhail Margelov, the chairman of the Federation Council’s Committee on International Affairs, noted that Russia is “against territorial changes.” And Moscow “had stressed that after the Kosovo mistake made by the European Union and NATO member states,” Margelov said, referring to the recognition of Kosovo despite the protests in Serbia.

“The settlement of all regional conflicts in Europe, including Transdniester, Nagorno-Karabakh or Northern Cyprus would be an adequate answer to that mistake,” Margelov told Komsomolskaya Pravda daily.

“What happened a year ago in the South Caucasus was against our will,” Margelov said. “The Georgian aggression against Russian peacekeepers and the people of South Ossetia forced Sukhum and Tskhinval to proclaim independence and Russia had no choice,” he stressed. “Russia could not but support them,” he added.

“But this does not mean that we support territorial changes in Europe,” he said. “We are backing a political decision of the Transdniester problem and want Chisinau and Tiraspol to come to an agreement, learn to live together and not repeat the tragic mistakes of the Georgian leaders.”

Political scientist Pavel Svyatenkov, in turn, thinks that Russia should recognize Transdniester rather than incorporate the republic. Commenting on Smirnov’s statement about the possibility of Transdniester accession into Russia as a region, Svyatenkov said it would be difficult taking into account current international law.

Formally, such incorporation “would look like an annexation,” he added. He explained the possible problems by the very structure of the Soviet Union, when its republics “were in fact considered independent states.”

From the point of view of this law, Moldova was a state that had the right to be independent and it realized this right, he noted. Transdniester, on the contrary, “was considered a rebellious breakaway territory,” the political scientist said.

Svyatenkov believes that the possible bargaining with the new government in Moldova will be unsuccessful. Any leadership in Moldova, be it Communist or liberal, will not agree to Transdniester joining Russia, he said. “It is quite evident that long-term bargaining with the Communist leadership in Moldova had brought nothing,” he added.

“During the process of the USSR’s break-up, Russia missed a very important moment,” Svyatenkov told Regnum news agency. “When the British Empire was breaking up, Britons created in many regions regimes under their control,” he said. “In other words, it was Britain that determined who would get independence in the regions that broke away from the empire,” he noted. “But the unrecognized states that emerged in the post-Soviet space, for the most part, did not receive Moscow’s support, he said.

The situation has begun to change now, the analyst said. “First of all, Moscow at last took a decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” he noted. “The unrecognized status of the Republic of Transdniester in this situation must make the authorities in that region and Moscow nervous,” he added.

The new Moldovan government says that it will work to have Russian troops withdrawn from the Transdniester region, Svyatenkov noted. “So I believe that the recognition of that region by the Russian authorities would be an expedient action,” he said, adding that this may “strengthen our positions in the post-Soviet space.”

“So we should take a strong decision, the more so because the West had to swallow the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia despite a loud anti-Russian propaganda,” Svyatenkov said. The West even had to reset relations with Russia, “even if only at the level of official demagogy,” he said.

The optimal decision for Russia would be “to recognize the independence of the Transdniester state and to conclude a union with it modeled on the agreements with Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” Svyatenkov said.

However, Konstantin Zatulin of the Institute of the CIS countries believes that the Transdniester problem is different from the case of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. “One may recognize the independence of Transdniester, but what would be the principle of the realization of this recognition?” he asked. At the same time, if Chisinau “begins the integration into Romania, then Transdniester will never return to Moldova,” he said.

Sergey Borisov, RT